Pro Life vs. Pro Choice

From UBC Wiki
Pro Life Anti Abortion March in D.C.
Pro-choice and anti-abortion protest on the 35th anniv. of Roe v Wade 2008

The age-old debate between pro-life and pro-choice is a central facet of the abortion discussion. The argument of pro-life versus pro-choice ultimately revolves around the law, and the extent to which people believe that abortion should be sanctioned. The main cleavage between the two opposing sides of the debate is about the rights of the pregnant woman versus the rights of the child. Those who are pro-life tend to believe that the fetus has a right to life.[1] In contrast, pro-choicers believe that the pregnant woman has a right to privacy.[1] The opposing sides of the debate also disagree on the point at which a fetus becomes a legal person.[2]

Reproductive Politics

'Reproductive politics' is defined by Heather Latimer (2009) as "the struggle over who has power over women's fertility."[3] The idea of 'reproductive politics' - and the term itself - is a product of the early 1980's. During this time period, issues surrounding reproduction, pregnancy, and abortion became matters of public discourse and opinion in Canada and the U.S.[3] Reproductive politics consist of deeply personal issues and decisions, but these issues have long been subject to debate. In particular, the idea of abortion as a matter to be discussed has taken off in recent decades. At the heart of such discussion is the debate between those who are 'pro-life' and those who are 'pro-choice.'

Wendy Davis

Wendy Davis, a Texas senator gained America's attention when she held a filibuster for 11 hours to go against a bill that would severely restrict access to abortions in the state on June 25, 2013. The event allowed her no time for water, food, bathroom breaks, or even sitting. The long speech would delay and hence prevent a vote on the bill, leaving the topic to be discussed again 2 years later. The filibuster included abortion stories from thousands of women who reached out to her through her social media, displaying why abortion is necessary. Despite the long talk, Senator Davis was silenced by Republicans and the bill passed 2 days later. She is famous for strapping on her pink runners to prepare for the long day which became an icon for women empowerment and an icon from pro-choice. [4]

Background in Canada

The cleavage between these opposing perspectives emerged in Canada following two major legal and judicial movements which took place in the late 20th century: the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1968-1969, commonly referred to as Pierre Trudeau's Omnibus Bill, and the 1988 Supreme Court decision in R. v. Morgentaler.[5]

Omnibus Bill

The Omnibus Bill essentially pushed reproductive politics outside of the legal and political arena of Canada by definining abortion as a medical matter and assigning the responsibility of decision-making to the medical community. This meant that while abortion was still largely stigmatized, inaccessible, and expensive, it was legal in instances where it was performed at an accredited hospital by a certified physician.[5] During the period of time when the regulations of the Omnibus Bill were in place, groups of political lobbyists - on the side of both pro-life and pro-choice - rallied for the law in Canada to make a decision once and for all about abortion. For pro-lifers, the decision ought to be that abortion was banned in all instances; those who were pro-choice argued that abortion should be legal and accessible to all women.[5]

R. v. Morgentaler

Nearly 20 years later, the Supreme Court judges in R. v. Morgentaler made the final decision by striking down the provisions in the Omnibus Bill and ruling that sanctioning women's access to legal abortions was unconstitutional.[5] This decision sparked even more controversy and debate between pro-life and pro-choice advocates, and has been consistently cited by both sides of the debate since the decision in 1988.


Those who are on the pro-life side of the spectrum tend to believe that abortion is unethical murder, and that governments - who have a responsibility to preserve life - should not allow it to be medically available to pregnant women.[6] Pro-lifer's, then, firmly believe that abortion should not be legal. Other controversial medical procedures, such as euthanasia or assisted suicide, should also be illegal from the perspective of those who are pro-life.[6]

Fetal Personhood

A central argument on the pro-life side of the debate is that a fetus is equal to a human life, and is thus deserving of full legal rights and protections.[2] Those who believe this tend to insist that an unborn human being is no less inviolable than a human being that has already been born.[7] If a fetus is considered a person under law, it can be argued that abortion - which consists of terminating the fetus - is no different from terminating a human life. In this way, pro-lifers insist that abortion constitutes murder.[8] Under this line of thought, a life begins at the moment of conception. Even birth control, since it prevents the creation of life, is morally condemnable in the eyes of extreme anti-abortionists.[8]

Right to Life

If the above argument of fetal personhood is accepted, then it can be further argued that a fetus, as a legal person, is entitled to the right to life.[1] The right to life is protected by section 7 the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This argument holds that a fetus's right to life outweighs a woman's reproductive freedom. Furthermore, some pro-life activists claim that when a woman engages in sexual intercourse, she waives her own rights in lieu of her child's right to life.[1]

Other Considerations

Another major consideration for those who are anti-abortion is the concept of religion. Members of the Roman Catholic Church, among other religions, have spoken openly about their belief that abortion is immoral and unethical.[7] Though the reason for these beliefs is typically related to the notions of fetal personhood and the right to life, the religious aspect of the pro-life argument is more about moral acceptability than legal acceptability. While fetal personhood and the right to life can be used to argue that abortions should not be legal, the religious argument further asserts that abortion should also be morally condemnable.[7]

Movements in Canada for Pro Life

There are several organizations that promote and support Pro-Life in Canada. The most prominent organization is the Campaign Life Coalition. Campaign Life Coalition is the national pro-life organization working at all levels of government to secure full legal protection for all human beings, from the time of conception to natural death [9] Every May the Campaign Life Coalition holds the National March for Life on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. [In 2014], an estimated 25,000 pro-lifers assembled on Parliament Hill and marched through downtown Ottawa to inform Canadians that we are the only western nation with no protection for the unborn. Provincial Marches For Life also take place simultaneously across Canada, drawing thousands more. [10]


Those who are pro-choice disagree with the view that abortion should be banned by law. On this side of the spectrum, the dominant opinion is that pregnant women themselves - not the governing body - reserve the right to decide whether or not to utilize abortion as a means of terminating such pregnancy. Pro-choice is about autonomy and embodies the idea that women should have ultimate control over their own reproduction.[6] This side of the spectrum also insists that for gender equality to be possible, complete reproductive freedom is required.[5]

Right to Privacy

A major argument in favor of pro-choice is that of a fundamental right to privacy. While privacy is not actually a guaranteed right under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it is still a widespread notion in the political sphere and is used to argue that abortion should be legal. A right to privacy suggests that people should be free to live and make decisions about their lives without government intervention, except in cases where the decisions being made are matters of compelling state interest.[1] Since pro-choicers believe that the decision of what to do with a pregnancy rests solely with the pregnant woman herself, they insist that abortion is not a matter of compelling state interest, and should thus not be sanctioned.

Reproductive Freedom

Reproductive freedom is a more focused branch of the right to privacy which specifically references the extent to which women have control over their own fertility.[3] Those in favour of the right to abortion tend to argue that women who find themselves pregnant ought to be able to decide whether or not to terminate their pregnancy as they see fit, since women are the ones who are most affected by such decision both during pregnancy and once a child has been born.[11] The issue of reproductive freedom also encompasses the argument that whether or not abortion is legalized in a given area, women will find ways to terminate unwanted pregnancies as a means of regaining reproductive control.[11] This often comes in the form of either visiting a doctor willing to perform an illegal abortion, or travelling to a place in which abortion is legal.[12] These options make abortion more expensive and dangerous, and thus pro-choicers argue that prohibiting abortion does not actually prevent women from terminating pregnancies but merely forces them to do so in dangerous and unfamiliar locations.[12]

Other Considerations

Those who are pro-choice also list a number of other factors to be considered in deciding whether or not abortion should be legal. One important argument is that women shouldn't be denied the right to terminate a pregnancy that is the result of rape, as this can be psychologically harming to both the mother and the child.[11] A futher argument along the same lines is that a woman should not be banned from having an abortion if carrying out the pregnancy would put the woman's life at risk.[7] Another consideration is the financial situation of the pregnant woman. This is often the deciding factor for women when faced with an unwanted pregnancy, and those who are pro-choice argue that the option of abortion ought to exist because some women truly cannot afford to raise a child.[2] The underlying point of pro-choicers is that the decision of whether or not to have an abortion is solely up to the pregnant woman to decide. These other considerations are simply further arguments that support the pro-choice belief that abortions should be legal.

Movements in Canada for Pro-Choice

There are various nation-wide protests and rallies in support of Pro-Choice. The most influential organization is the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada. The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC) is the only nation-wide political pro-choice group devoted to ensuring abortion rights and access for women. We formed in October 2005 to carry out political and educational work to support reproductive rights and health. [13]

See Also

Abortion Debate


Right to Privacy

Right to Life

Beginning of Human Personhood

Reproductive Rights

Omnibus Bill

R. v. Morgentaler


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  12. 12.0 12.1 Bernstein, J.L. (2008). The underground railroad to reproductive freedom: Restrictive abortion laws and the resulting backlash. Brooklyn Law Review, 73, 1463-1508. Retrieved from: